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Monday, March 23, 2015

Traverse City Michigan Area - Tour of Breweries & Wineries

March 2015, Saturday

We spent a full day in the Traverse City area visiting breweries and wineries, along with some walking and dining. Following is information about the places we visited and what they have to offer.

Brewery Terra Firma

Samples: Black Orchid Vanilla Bean Porter &
Ancho Chili Dutch Double Chocolate Porter
Brewery Terra Firma is a brewery, farm, and taproom (tasting room) just south of Traverse City on Hartman Road. It is pretty much located behind the Crossing Circle shopping center where Home Depot, Staples, and Office Depot are located, although there is not a road behind the shopping center. Hartman Road runs between US-31/37 and Cass Road.

This location opens at 10:00 a.m. Monday - Saturday, and it was our first stop as we were arriving from the south. It was more like a tasting room than any of the other locations.

They sell snacks (visible in the photo behind the beer samples, if you click on the photo to enlarge it), and food can be brought in or delivered to eat, as well. Beer samples were $1.50 each.

There was plenty of seating inside and outside. It was chilly outside the day of our visit, so we sat at the bar. The walls were decorated with intriguing paintings from a local artist. Everything looked new; I was surprised when the bartender said they have been open since 2013.

This was one of our favorite stops, and we would definitely stop here again!

The next couple of locations we visited are located in the downtown area, and they are more pub style than tasting room. We knew this; however, they are accessible from the Boardman Trail, and we wanted to do some walking. We drove from Brewery Terra Firma to Right Brain Brewery via Cass Road and parked in the large parking lot near the brewery. We walked to The Filling Station, and then visited Right Brain Brewery.

The Filling Station from park
The walk from Right Brain Brewery to The Filling Station was just over 1 mile one-way (1.1 miles, to be exact). Boardman Trail had just been newly paved of the west side of the lake from E. 14th Street to Franklin Street. The rest of the trail on the west side of the lake leading south was still in process at the time of our visit. The Filling Station is easily visible from the trail after passing the marina and launch ramp.

The Filling Station Microbrewery 

We had thought The Filling Station looked intriguing, and that it looked like a great place to eat. There are several tables inside with seating in two different rooms. We had a great view from our table. There were also several picnic tables outside for warmer days.
view from inside

We shared a beer sampler and a pizza. They offer 4 oz. samples—4 for $5.50, 5 for $6.75, and 6 for $8. When we arrived at our hotel at the end of the day, we found a beer coupon for this location in the visitor's rack. It was good for 50 cents off a pint. Limit 1 per person per visit.

The pizza was $14, which we thought was a bit pricey, although it was very good. We ordered half Wolverine, and half Spartan. The Wolverine half was excellent; however, we do not recommend the Spartan. The Spartan ingredients are: mushrooms, olives, red onion, pepperoni, and prosciutto. This sounds like a good combination, and I think it would be, if it had had more pepperoni and prosciutto. Our pizza contained mostly olives, and the olive flavor was overpowering.

The design of this location is very cool, and we liked the way it is set up. If you are looking for a brewery or pub though, be aware that the atmosphere is more like a restaurant. There were several families dining at the time of our visit on Saturday afternoon.

Right Brain Brewery

I was undecided about our decision to stop at Right Brain Brewery. I thought their website was unusual. Even going so far as to have a section called "our critics." What actually turned me off were the comments from critics about kids and diapers. In a breweryreally?!? Their website said they fill Growlers, have tastings, and give tours, so we decided we had to check the place out for ourselves.
beers on tap

We did not see any kids at this location, and it looked like a brewery, so I did not understand the comments I had read about kids and diapers. Food was available for purchase; however, we thought it was definitely more of a brewery/pub atmosphere. The atmosphere is similar to Odd Side Ales In Grand Haven, and we thought that our 30+ year old son would have liked this brewery. We do not like Odd Side Ales (for a completely different reason than anything talked about in this post). The building is a very spacious, and there is a long bar with many seats.

Tastes are available, pretty much like at any brewery, when requested. We did not purchase a sampler at this location, however, because the sample options would have been too much beer. The samples for purchase are something one would want to try when merely stopping at one location, and not visiting multiple locations, like we were doing. The smallest sampler was six 6 oz. pours for $15. We opted for a couple of small tastes, and then one glass of Smokey CEO (stout) to share.

Several more breweries are available downtown Traverse City, although we did not visit any others. Having had some food and spent a bit of time walking, we were off to our next destinations on Old Mission Peninsula. It was just under a half hour drive to the farthest north location that we visited.

Blackstar Farms

We decided we needed a bit of a beer break, so we stopped at BlackStar Farms tasting room. We have been to all of their tasting rooms, and we like this one, and the one in Sutton's Bay. It was very busy when we stopped, and we were lucky to get two just vacated spots at the counter.

We each had a small wine glass that came with tastings we had purchased a few years ago, so we brought those with us. The current tasting offer is similar; purchase the glass and 5 tastings for $5, and you can bring the glass back for complimentary tastings next time. The wine was basically the same as it had been on previous visits, although the service was not quite as good. The experience we had in October 2010 was excellent, and we purchased a couple of bottles of wine then. This time, our wine server did not rinse our glasses at the end, and we did not receive fresh paper bags to go over the glasses.

Mission Table - The Tasting Room

I was surprised that we were the only guests at the Mission Table Tasting Room. The sign by the road had the Mission Table name on it; however, the sign in front of the building said Bowers Harbor Inn, so we were mildly confused at first. There is a sign visible from the parking lot that points to the tasting room, so we did not have any difficulty finding the correct room. When I looked at their website again after our visit, I saw that this location was renamed Mission Table at Bowers Harbor Inn in 2010.
view from inside tasting room

We purchased one tasting package, which was $5 for 5 tastes of wine, beer, or spirits. The $5 can then be used toward a retail purchase. We thought about filling our Growler; however, we could not use the $5 credit toward a Growler refill. We could have used it toward a bottle of wine or spirit. We did not try any of the spirits, and the cost for a bottle was $29. There was only one red wine option in the tasting package, which I did not like. We ended up purchasing a souvenir beer glass with our $5 credit.

Even though the $5 tasting package was a good price, I do not think we would visit this location again. There was not anything that was a definite turnoff; however, since there are so many winery and brewery choices in the area, we did not think there was anything impressive about the location to make us want to stop again. 

We had a couple more wineries on our map on the peninsula that we did not make it to. It was after 5:00 by the time we left Mission Table. We would have needed more time and/or a designated driver to visit any more than we did. Most of the tasting rooms were open until 5:00 or 6:00, and the one we would have visited next, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, had closed at 5:00 p.m.
Another coupon we found in the visitor's rack at our hotel was for a free wine tasting at Bowers Harbor Vineyards and 15% off 3+ bottles, which we have saved for next time.

Many, many wineries and breweries in the Traverse City and surrounding areas to visit! I hope this provides some information for anyone trying to decide which ones to visit. Enjoy ~ and, always drink responsibly!